Dilapidations of Time

Lately I’m spending more and more time with objects from my family’s past. I have some beauties: my great grandpa’s razors, his money clip, his pipe collection, his Navy sea bag from WWI. I have a sleeve of shuttlecocks of unknown provenance, but certainly from my family, probably from Aunt Arleen, the amateur champion golfer and athlete from a time when women had no clear route to such renown. I have some old Count Basie records, probably also from Arleen, and they sound better all the time. I like to drink old-fashioneds. I like to shave and slap old-timey stinging alcoholic aftershave onto my poor 21st century cheeks. Yes I’m aware that there’s a fine line between all of this and a mustachioed douchebag Brooklyn bartender circa 2009, but I’m confident that for now I’m on the right side of the divide.

I have Uncle Dave’s Nikon F2, on loan until he decides to shoot film again. I’m hoping that day never comes. 

After my dad died last year, some subtle shift started happening, at first without my awareness. It has something to do with my role in my family. Not my own role as a father, but my place in some greater schema of history and legacy and heritage. I’m sorry; I cannot be more specific because I do not understand it yet. But I can feel it. 

When I was a player, writer, and recorder of music, recording to tape gave me a thrill that computers never could. There is some mystery at play, some magic, something unquantifiable, something unpredictable. It’s the same feeling as getting pictures back from the film developers. Alchemical magic, capturing something real but with memory and nostalgia and poetry baked in forever. The way I see it, digital recording and digital photography freeze the moment with perfect fidelity, keeping it attached to the present. On the other hand, tape and film capture it and immediately whisk it away into some perfectly blurred past; they give you the poignant rush of understanding that these days will, inevitably, some day be the good old days.

Old decoys, old fishing gear. A receipt from one piece of said old fishing gear: on February 2, 1979 (exactly 41 years ago today, oddly enough!), my dad paid $41.99 plus tax in cash for a Fenwick Rod (item #FF806) at Long’s Drugstore. He was buying a fly rod in Wisconsin in February, which is something like buying a parka in July. He was thinking about another season…  

I listen almost exclusively to jazz, and it must be old, certainly before 1980 and more likely before 1961. Yes, I listen on vinyl. New jazz — digital jazz — makes me viscerally angry.  

I have some amazing old books. Someone in the family had a first edition Hemingway, and Aunt Cindi was good enough to see that I became the next owner (or keeper, perhaps). My dear Grandma gave me one of my all-time favorite books, FIFTEEN THOUSAND USEFUL PHRASES, written by an apparently real person named GRENVILLE KLEISER. (Important note to self: if you ever have a son, you must name him Grenville.) Grandma was thoughtful; she knew I was becoming a writer, and she believed the book would help me. Alas, it turns out that of FIFTEEN THOUSAND USEFUL PHRASES, there are pretty much actually ZERO USEFUL PHRASES, unless you have a taste for stuff like “dilapidations of time” which, I kid you not, is underlined in the book. Which leads me to picture my grandma, pensively going through all FIFTEEN THOUSAND PHRASES and underlining the ones she hoped to work into conversations and correspondences.

I have old atlases full of long forgotten geographies. I have a beautiful old table, liberated from Arleen’s basement. I believe it belonged to one Aunt Feedee (spelling probably wrong). I met her only once or twice though she lived in our hometown, Green Bay, Wisconsin. There is a mate to this table, a finished and varnished match, up at the cottage. I’m glad I have the one that made it through the years without any gloss. I’m not afraid to set a cold cocktail on it and have the water ring absorb into the wood. It stains at first but then the stain just fades away into the wood, a concentric circle of time overlapped with a thousand other cold glasses and bottles that have taken up temporary residence on that table. It is desk, workbench, epicenter of my weird subconscious life (a lot of responsibility for a rickety old table that lives in a dark corner of a generic Seattle apartment). 

Of course, I’ve always loved Sinatra, even as a kid, way before it made any musical or stylistic sense for a card carrying member of Generation X. 

I fell hard for Mad Men. I had trouble not seeing it as a better time until my sister set me straight on how that time might have been fantastic for white men of means…and nobody else. (It’s still a hell of a show to watch if you appreciate good clothes and good interior design.) 

At my dad’s funeral, I saw his life reduced to some framed awards and plaques from the Pulaski school district. And a few dozen photos. For the last few years of his life, I’d been asking him to write a book. One of his friends did, and, though it was no literary masterpiece, it was full of meaningful stories. They were vignettes from my dad’s time, stories from a Green Bay I never got to know. My dad had some real good stories. I wish like hell he’d written that book. It wasn’t just the stories that I wanted. It was how he felt about them now, the story behind the story, the story inside the story. 

At any rate, I wanted to start writing some stuff down. I wanted to write it down for posterity and for anyone else. And I wanted to get it down and get it out quickly; I’m tired to death of editing everything. I’m tired of hearing myself propose blog ideas to my brother and then write 75% of something and then get paralyzed because it’s not perfect and then never finish it. 

So here it is.

Oh yeah. The best thing I have from my family? A shoe horn with a long wooden handle capped with an intricately carved owl’s head. Mr. Owl imparts wisdom every time I put on shoes. He hoots about the past and about the future. He’s hooting straight into the back of my calf, but so be it.

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